Appreciating Our Western National Parks

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Florin Chelaru/Flickr.

Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Florin Chelaru/Flickr.

This week, we’re celebrating some of the most important anniversaries in the history of the National Park Service. Grand Teton National Park, founded on February 26, 1929, and Yellowstone National Park, founded on March 1, 1872, are two of the most iconic and beloved national parks in the United States. Every year, thousands of people visit these parks to experience the beauty and majesty of our natural environment. The establishment of these two protected areas continues to be a testament to our country’s recognition of how important national parks are to preserving wilderness habitats.

Stretching across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park draws millions of visitors every year to see its impressive mountain ranges, canyons and wildlife. But while Yellowstone has become famous for its plethora of geysers and bubbly hot springs, this national park is also known for beginning a worldwide effort to protect and preserve natural environments. Founded by Congress through the Act of March 1,1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. According to the National Park Service, the creation of Yellowstone sparked a “worldwide national park movement” that has so far led to the establishment of 1,200 national parks and preserves in more than 100 countries. Since 1872, the United States alone has protected enough land to warrant the creation of 59 national parks to preserve beautiful landscapes and natural resources for future generations.

Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

The next-door neighbor of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929 through an executive order signed by President Calvin Coolidge. Almost an extension of Yellowstone (the parks are only 10 miles apart from each other), Grand Teton National Park encompasses the Teton Range and several lakes at its base. Home to hundreds of plant and animal species, Grand Teton provides visitors and residents of Wyoming with a pristine environment perfect for outdoor recreation and exploration.

Although more than 84 million acres of land are protected in national parks across the country, Americans must continue advocating for the well-being of their public lands. While Grand Teton and Yellowstone remain protected under federal law, the health of their forests remains in jeopardy. In recent years, the forests in these iconic parks have become threatened by mountain pine beetles, white pine blister rust and a warming climate. Through our Endangered Western Forests program, American Forests has developed a six-point plan to protect and restore forests in the Greater Yellowstone Area. With initiatives to plant blister rust-resistant seedlings and partner with local organizations, American Forests hopes to ensure that these national parks can continue celebrating their anniversaries for many years to come. Join us in protecting these treasured national parks.

The Sequester and Our National Parks

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP

That didn’t take too long. Last month, I wrote about the renewed, and concerning, focus on both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Antiquities Act by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation and its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop. Well folks, action has come quickly.

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. Credit: Mark Lellouch/NPS

On February 5, Rep. Bishop sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the financial and time costs, associated litigation and delays due to NEPA that the Departments of Defense, Interior, Transportation and Energy and the U.S. Forest Service incurred over the last five years. The GAO request was co-signed by the chairmen of the House Committees on Natural Resources, Energy and Commerce, Armed Services, and Transportation and Infrastructure. And while the natural reaction might be “it’s only a study,” remember that in the world of politics, very rarely is anything as simple as it may seem. My instincts are telling me this study is just the tip of a long-smoldering volcano (yes, I mixed my metaphors) and is merely the lead-in to a strong push for a reformed or scaled-back NEPA process. We shall see.

The push for potential NEPA reform, however, is far from the front burner of policy news this week. That dubious honor goes to the sequester. You have no doubt been inundated with all manner of news about the effects of this crisis. As the deadline draws closer for Congress to act before the $85 billion in cuts goes into effect, more details emerge as to what this means for us all.

Looking westward from a part of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road called Big Bend, just west of Logan Pass

Looking westward from a part of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road called Big Bend, just west of Logan Pass. Credit: David Restivo/NPS

The National Park Service issued a memo at the end of January outlining the “priority” of cuts that it needs to make if the sequester takes place. The Park Service is responsible for about $110 million in cuts. While nominally, this is a five percent cut, due to its timing, the effect would be more along the lines of an eight or nine percent cut. For better or worse, it appears that personnel costs, including hiring and furloughs, are first in line to be cut by the Park Service. These cuts will, in turn, impact the operation of the parks themselves.

According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the personnel cuts required under the sequester, along with additional budgetary cuts that must be made, will delay the openings of the entrance roads to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks by up to a month. Grand Teton National Park will see the closure of visitor centers and a nature preserve for the entire season while Great Smoky Mountains National Park will suffer the shutdown of five campgrounds and picnic areas. The opening of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road will be delayed two weeks while Grand Canyon National Park will delay opening the East and West Rim drives. Yet, these are perhaps just the most tangible impacts. Reduced numbers of park personnel means limited operating hours for visitor centers; less maintenance on roads, buildings and trails; and other limitations that may not yet be known.

Whatever your personal feelings on the sequester, these are real cuts to access to America’s most beautiful spaces. While Congress sits idle, this sad and preventable outcome for the millions of visitors to our national parks will resonate for the seasons to come.

One Generation’s Trash, Another’s Treasure

by Susan Laszewski
City trees in Samara, Russia

City trees in Samara, Russia. Credit: abrigenn/Flickr

Through our multi-year Partnership for Trees collaboration with Alcoa Foundation, hundreds of thousands of trees are being planted on damaged and degraded sites throughout the world, but one project in particular represents the epitome of “degraded”: a garbage dump.

In Samara, Russia, American Forests and Alcoa employees are working with the Training Center for Ecology and Safety on Trees in the City — planting 180 trees in the city’s Kirovskiy District, including the spot that has served as the area’s household waste dump for a decade.

It may sound like a stinky job, but around 60 local students and Alcoa volunteers are willing to get their hands dirty to reclaim this site as greenspace for future recreation. In all, the project will plant about 180 ashberry, linden, maple, pine and birch, whose leaves are said to shimmer in the wind.

But the real shimmering stars of this project are the students. In addition to volunteering their time for the planting, they also kicked the project off with an educational seminar, “The Environmental Characteristics of Urban Trees,” to gain a better understanding of the importance of their work. Urban trees not only provide wildlife habitat and help clean air and water, they also bring residents closer to nature, reducing stress and imparting a sense of well-being. So, what was one generation’s trash will become the next generation’s treasure as the local students continue to monitor and maintain the site in the future.

Samara is a city with a record of investing in trees for youth. Last year, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation partnered with the Training Center on a schoolyard landscaping project called “On a Visit to the Forest.” We’re delighted to continue our partnership with them, helping to educate the next generation of urban tree huggers.

Taking Baths in the Forest

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Remember when yoga was just a craze? Now, it’s just a normal part of many people’s workout routines. Might another mind, body, spirit experience from Asia be on its way?

Credit: apparena/Flickr

Credit: apparena/Flickr

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been noticing the buzz in the environmental world over the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. We first explored the idea of forest bathing back in 2011 through our magazine article, “A Tree-lined Path to Good Health.” The gist of the practice is to simply go out into a forested area (park, backyard, etc.) and commune with nature. The idea is to absorb the peace and tranquility of your forested surrounding, taking in the smells, the textures and the general environment. If you do this, your body will thank you.

Scientists in Japan, such as Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Qing Li, have discovered myriad physiological benefits to shinrin-yoku:

  • Decreases in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, sympathetic nervous activity, blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Increases in levels of white blood cells that release anticancer proteins to attack tumors and cells infected by viruses — a benefit that stays with you for a month after the activity.

The practice of forest bathing is so popular in Japan that the country has designated 48 official Forest Therapy trails, which are used by more than 2.5 million people each year, according to Outside magazine.

With our often stress-filled lives, I’m thinking some daily relaxation in a rural or urban forest sounds like just what the doctor, or scientist, ordered. I mean, a glass of wine can be consumed just as easily sitting on a boulder in the forest as in a bathtub, right?

Hummingbirds’ Early Arrival

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Last month, we discussed the possibility that certain tree species may start budding earlier in the springtime in response to warmer winter temperatures. Well, animals are going to have to adapt, too, and some animal species, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, are already altering their behavior to accommodate climatic shifts.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Some ruby-throated hummingbirds are starting to migrate earlier. Is this a cause for concern? Credit: hart_curt/Flickr

According to a recent article published in The Auk, the journal of The American Ornithologists’ Union, ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating from their winter habitats in Central America to their North American homes earlier than in the past — 12 to 18 days earlier, in fact. This shift in the hummingbirds’ migration pattern is probably due to warmer temperatures in Central America during the winter months and carries implications for the survival of the species.

As Dr. Ron Johnson, a scientist and one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press, “With any bird that migrates over long distances, it’s good to show up at the nesting grounds at a good time when you can set up a territory and build your nest and when the young come along there will be a lot of food available.”

But if these hummingbirds migrate to North America early, there is a possibility that there may not be enough food available for them when they arrive. The ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet consists of small insects and nectar from flowers and flowering trees, and the existence of both also depends on the changing seasons.

While the full implications of earlier migrations for hummingbirds and other bird species are not yet understood, it is important to keep them in mind. In 2011, we conducted a habitat restoration project in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest to aid the ruby-throated hummingbird and other species because hummingbirds are not just a popular species among birdwatchers; they also benefit ecosystems across North America by helping to pollinate plants and trees. Just as they depend on a balanced ecosystem to thrive, the health of our forests and even our backyard environments may depend on them.

Animals Gone Urban

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

One of the many benefits that urban forests provide is habitat for wildlife. But in keeping true to the stereotype of overcrowded cities, it appears that a few communities around the country are experiencing wildlife overpopulation — to somewhat detrimental results.

Red-winged blackbirds

Red-winged blackbirds. Credit: Bob Webster/Flickr

In Kentucky, the residents of Hopkinsville are suffering a bird invasion. Millions of blackbirds and European starlings have set up roost in the Kentucky community of 35,000, creating a literal black cloud in the sky throughout the day. Local experts tell Reuters that the inundation is most likely due to the unseasonably warm winter in Kentucky, where the ground hasn’t really frozen this year. When the ground freezes, the birds’ preferred diet of leftover crops and insects isn’t available, and they move further south.

Beyond the annoyance factor of sharing their community with millions of birds, there is a health concern as well, as blackbird droppings can carry a fungal disease called histoplasmosis. This disease can lead to lung infections, lethargy and other health issues.

The city has resorted to air cannons to try to scare the birds southward.

A thousand miles away, Denver International Airport is experiencing a different kind of wildlife invasion: It’s hunting wabbits. The Associated Press reports that federal wildlife workers are removing 100 rabbits from the airport area each month. Why? The rabbits are eating the spark plug cables and other wiring in parked cars.

The airport reports that in 2012 only three claims were submitted for car damage due to rodents or rabbits, but parking companies in the area are still investing in better fencing and roosts for hawks and eagles to help with their bunny problem.

Both of these stories help illustrate how delicate the balance is when humans, nature and animals intersect. Trees, shrubs, flowers and the like make us healthy and happier in our urban environs, but they are also prime homes for our wildlife friends. While urban forests can provide critical habitat for wildlife, it is important to continue planning and managing for a healthy environment for all its inhabitants through effective wildlife and urban forests management plans.

EAB Goes Global

by Susan Laszewski
An adult emerald ash borer feeding on a leaf.

An adult emerald ash borer feeding on a leaf. Credit: David Cappaert.

The beautiful, but deadly, emerald ash borer (EAB) doesn’t look to be slowing down. In fact, this army of tree pests is taking its attack on ash trees global.

Last month, four Russian scientists — three from Moscow and one from Siberia — paid a visit to the U.S. to learn more about a pest that has recently become all-too-familiar to them. Yury Ivanovich Gninenko and Yulia Anatolievna Sergeeva, researchers in forest protection against invasive insects from the Russian Research Institute for Silviculture and Mechanization of Forestry (VNIILM) in Moscow were joined by forester Aleksandr Evgenievich Droskov and head of the V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest’s Department of Forest Zoology in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, Yuri Baranchikov, for a two-week trip to the U.S. that was less about seeing the sights and more about delving into information about the emerald ash borer. After attending a conference on invasive forest pests in Maryland and stopping by some East Coast laboratories, they headed to Michigan State University (MSU), where American Forests Science Advisory Board member and forest entomologist Dr. Deborah McCullough and her colleagues have been devoting a lot of energy to studying these critters.

MSU is a logical choice for a trip revolving around EAB. Since EAB was first identified in Detroit, Mich., in 2002, the state has been one of the hardest hit by EAB. Now, it looks as if the Moscow area is heading down a similar path.

According to the researchers, EAB is now killing ash trees in Moscow at an alarming rate. While EAB is native to far eastern parts of Russia, the insect had to travel 11 time zones across the largest country in the world to get to Moscow, likely by way of the Trans-Siberian Railroad or Highway. That’s quite a journey for a little bug, and it means that Moscow’s trees are totally unfamiliar with this new threat.

Even more foreboding is that Moscow lies just 280 miles from western Europe, whose ash species have all been determined to be vulnerable to EAB. At this rate, says McCullough, it “won’t be long until EAB has circumnavigated the whole northern hemisphere.” Yikes!

The future of ash trees may look grim, but for those that want to do more than despair, there are ways you can help. Learn what you can do in the fight against EAB.

Helping Our Backyard Birds

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

blue jay

While usually pretty common on checklists, fewer blue jays were recorded during last year’s bird count. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

The 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count has begun! For 16 years, expert and amateur bird watchers have recorded which species of birds are residing in their neighborhoods during this unique four-day event. And from now until Monday, February 18, you can get involved and try your hand at bird watching, too.

Wildlife observation can not only be fun, but it also helps to keep track of migration patterns and population sizes of various species. As participants record how many of each bird species they encounter, the coordinators and scientists behind the Great Backyard Bird Count begin to get a sense of where certain birds are most likely to be sighted. While past bird counts have only been conducted in the United States, this year’s count is the first time that participants from all over the world are invited to participate and submit data.

“We’re eager to see how many of the world’s 10,240 bird species will be reported during the count this year,” says Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick in the release on the event. “We’re looking forward to this historic snapshot of birds that that will be reported from around the world. We need as many people as possible to help build the wealth of data that scientists need to track the health of bird populations through time.”

snowy owl

Last year, bird watchers frequently sighted snowy owls during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Credit: Arjan Haverkamp/Flickr

Although some statistics remain consistent over time, each year’s bird count provides new insights into where different species are living and thriving around the world. For example, according to the 2012 bird count results, participants recorded more snowy owl sightings in the U.S. than in previous years. Normally, an artic-dwelling bird, these owls could have flow farther south last year in search of prey that was in short supply in their native habitat. Other bird species, however, were harder to find in 2012 than in previous years. The number of blue jay sightings was below average, indicating that these birds probably migrated elsewhere in search of food, such as acorns. Therefore, the abundance of trees and nuts in certain habitats can have an effect on the bird populations in the region.

Over the years, American Forests Global ReLeaf has conducted many projects to restore and protect habitat for migratory birds. For instance, in 2012, we planted trees in Arkansas’ Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge to help reforest part of the Mississippi flyway, in Louisiana to connect forest fragments and create wildlife corridors and in Veracruz, Mexico, to restore critical habitat for migratory birds — to just name a few.

Do you want to help the birds in your backyard? Registration for this year’s bird count is free, and all you have to do is create an online account and submit your findings from February 15 to February 18. You can also choose how long and on which days to observe your local birds and are welcome to submit multiple checklists per day. Happy bird counting!

Curious about great places to go bird watching? Check out our feature “Birding in the U.S.”

Roses: Sour Instead of Sweet?

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts


Roses. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

For years, we’ve been told that nothing says “I love you” quite like a red rose — except maybe a diamond ring. But does that red rose love the environment? Survey says: Relationship complicated.

The Society of American Florists reports that more than 85 percent of fresh-cut flowers in the U.S. are imported every year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is responsible for inspecting all imported flowers, says that in 2011, it processed 5.1 billion cut flowers, 802.5 million of which were processed during the Valentine’s season. Breaking down the figures even further, imported fresh-cut roses in 2011 were valued at $365.4 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What does all of this tell us? A humongous amount of flowers are traveling a long way to surprise your sweetheart. And travel means carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas production.

A 2007 comparative study by England’s Cranfield University revealed that 12,000 cut roses emitted almost 5,000 pounds of CO2 during their production in Kenya and delivery to the U.K. The same number of roses from the Netherlands emitted more than 77,000 pounds of CO2. It’s figures like these that result in calls for going local, right? Not so fast.

Roses in Edwards, Miss.

Roses in Edwards, Miss. Credit: Natalie Maynor/Flickr

One thing that accounted for the major difference in the CO2 production in Kenya and the Netherlands was growing conditions. In Kenya, it’s hot pretty much year round, which means less energy consumption in the growing process. In the Netherlands, greenhouses are needed, which equals a whole lot of additional energy demands. As you can imagine, buying local roses in snow-covered regions of the U.S. for Valentine’s Day might be tricky. As Vince Butera, a florist in York, Penn., tells the York Daily Record, “I believe in buying locally when I can, but there are no growers in York County, so I bring in a lot of flowers from California …”

For many people, though, carbon isn’t the only concern when it comes to imported flowers. Most U.S.-imported flowers come from Ecuador and Columbia, where Audubon reported in 2008 that 20 percent of the chemicals applied in flower production are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe. Not to mention concerns over worker health related to pesticide use and other labor rights concerns.

So, going local it is, yes? A qualified yes. Qualified? Going local is good, but going local creatively is better. Are cut roses that wither and die really the best way to say you care? Maybe a potted, local plant instead. Or a handmade treat or craft — not necessarily made by you if you lack the skills. Perhaps a gift of trees through a certain forest-loving nonprofit. For Valentine’s Day, and other gift-giving holidays, remember that there are lots of ways to show you care, but not all ways are green.

State of the Climate

by Susan Laszewski
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Feb. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

We’ve written before about the Obama administration’s rhetoric on climate change. Last month, in his inaugural address, Obama pledged to address climate change, saying “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Last night, in his State of the Union Address, the president renewed that commitment, but he also provided us with a glimpse of what that “more” might be.

The president proposed an energy security trust, to be funded by revenues from oil and gas on public lands, which would work to wean us off our dependence on fossil fuels through research and development of renewable energy technology. In urging Congress to work together on a solution to climate change, he also invoked the example of the bipartisan Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, a collaboration of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Ten years ago, that bill was rejected 43 to 55, but Obama implied that now is the right time for a similar bill.

But Congress is not the only branch of government that can take action. A month ago, we joined 69 other organizations in urging the president to use his executive authority to reduce carbon pollution. Last night, Obama responded, saying that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

These proposals and declarations of commitment are welcome news here at American Forests, where we’ve planted more than 43 million trees around the world as part of our commitment to mitigating climate change. As Obama said, “We were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent to make what difference we can.” At American Forests, we’ll keep trying to make what difference we can, too.